Reviews of New Teen Fiction
Julie Halpern and Jill Alexander's new books explore those tricky teen questions of friendships, peer groups, and "where do I belong?"
Julie Halpern's new book asks the basic question, "If you go into the wild nerd yonder, can you ever come back?" In Into the Wild Nerd Yonder Jessie provides an honest narrator that takes us through a story of old friendships passing away and new ones developing in surprising places. Jessie's best friends decide to remake themselves into punk groupies of her brother's basement band. Worse, one of them is making moves on the drummer, Jessie's long time crush. The crush who has just started paying attention to her.
In the meantime she discovers new friendships in a most unlikely place, the Dungeons-and-Dragons crowd. Jessie likes to think of herself as a creative person who expresses her individuality through he unique, self-made skirts, but it is her new friends that celebrate her talents. Halpern has created a wonderful character in Jessie, whose narrative ranges from hilarious to poignant as it relates familiar growing pains--coping with changing friendships and family dynamics, finding inner strength and self-appreciation. This is an enjoyable read. It was refreshing to take this journey with a teenager who has a healthy relationship with her brother and parents. Halpern was able to let the air out of preconceived notions (the prom princess as real person!) not with a pop, but gently and with good humor. Jessie is a complex, irresistible protagonist who will engage many readers. Release date: 9/29/2009
Jill Alexander's breezy book is narrated by Austin, a freshman who decides that the best way to protect herself from the school and town bully is to become the Future Farmer's of America's (FFA) Sweetheart in the "No-Jesus Christmas Parade." She creates a plan to become The Sweetheart of Prosper County.
Austin's life is overshadowed by the death of her father when she was in the third grade. Her mother refuses to celebrate Christmas and is overprotective of Austin. But, her mother isn't a wilting flower, hiding away. She runs the family hardware store and fends off the odious attentions of the town's mayor. Once Austin shares her plan with her mother she gives her a rooster for Christmas, Charles Dickens.
Along for the ride to the parade is Austin's best friend Maribel, new friends in the FFA, a Cajun guardian angel, and an Elvis performance artist.
Readers will follow along with Austin and might shed a tear or two. This book is a rarity in that it actually portrays teens with genuine faith lives. Mirabel's quinceañera is treated not as a big party, but as a prayerful moment in her life. Alexander doesn't get preachy, simply presents honest spirtuality.
As with Halpern's book, Alexander gently challenges readers to look beyond the stereotypes. The description of the current FFA Sweetheart as a "marshmallow girl" isn't a bad thing. Alexander only makes one misstep. While challenging us to look beyond the physical attributes to the real person with most characters she conveys that having hairy arms is a character flaw with another. This isn't enough to ruin the story. This is a great read for those who enjoyed Joan Bauer's Squashed. Release date: 9/1/2009
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